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A Terrible Fish, from Harper's


Among the inhabitants of the sea which, from their size or strength, have been termed "monarchs of the ocean," are the saw-fish and the sword-fish, which are formidable enemies to the whale; but it is not merely on their fellow-inhabitants of the deep that these powerful fishes exercise their terrible strength. Some singular instances are related of their attacking even the ships that intrude upon their watery domain. An old sea-captain tells the following story:

"Being in the Gulf of Paria, in the ship's cutter, I fell in with a Spanish canoe, manned by two men, who were in great distress, and who requested me to save their lines and canoe, with which request I immediately complied, and going alongside for that purpose, I discovered that they had got a large saw-fish entangled in their turtle net. It was towing them out to sea, and but for my assistance they must have lost either their canoe or their net, or perhaps both, and these were their only means of subsistence. Having only two boys with me at the time in the boat, I desired the fishermen to cut the fish away, which they refused to do. I then took the bight of the net from them, and with the joint endeavors of themselves and my boat's crew we succeeded in hauling up the net, and to our astonishment, after great exertions, we raised about eight feet of the saw of the fish above the surface of the sea. It was a fortunate circumstance that the fish came up with his belly toward the boat, or he would have cut it in two.

"I had abandoned all idea of taking the fish, until, by great good luck, it made toward the land, when I made another attempt, and having about three hundred feet of rope in the boat, we succeeded in making a running bow-line knot round the saw, and this we fortunately made fast on shore. When the fish found itself secured, it plunged so violently that I could not prevail on any one to go near it: the appearance it presented was truly awful. I immediately went alongside the Lima packet, Captain Singleton, and got the assistance of all his ship's crew. By the time they arrived the fish was less violent. We hauled upon the net again, in which it was still entangled, and got another three hundred feet of line made fast to the saw, and attempted to haul it toward the shore; but although mustering thirty hands, we could not move it an inch. By this time the negroes belonging to a neighboring estate came flocking to our assistance, making together about one hundred in number, with the Spaniards. We then hauled on both ropes nearly all day before the fish became exhausted. On endeavoring to raise the monster it became most desperate, sweeping with its saw from side to side, so that we were compelled to get strong ropes to prevent it from cutting us to pieces. After that one of the Spaniards got on its back, and at great risk cut through the joint of the tail, when the great fish died without further struggle. It was then measured, and found to be twenty-two feet long and eight feet broad, and weighed nearly five tons."

An East Indiaman was once attacked by a sword-fish with such prodigious force that its "snout" was driven completely through the bottom of the ship, which must have been destroyed by the leak had not the animal killed itself by the violence of its own exertions, and left its sword imbedded in the wood. A fragment of this vessel, with the sword fixed firmly in it, is preserved as a curiosity in the British Museum.

Several instances of a similar character have occurred, and one formed the subject of an action brought against an insurance company for damages sustained by a vessel from the attack of one of these fishes. It seems the Dreadnought, a first-class mercantile ship, left a foreign port in perfect repair, and on the afternoon of the third day a "monstrous creature" was seen sporting among the waves, and lines and hooks were thrown overboard to capture it. All efforts to this effect, however, failed: the fish got away, and in the night-time the vessel was reported to be dangerously leaking. The captain was compelled to return to the harbor he had left, and the damage was attributed to a sword-fish, twelve feet long, which had assailed the ship below water-line, perforated her planks and timbers, and thus imperilled her existence on the ocean.

Professor Owen, the distinguished naturalist, was called to give evidence on this trial as to the probability of such an occurrence, and he related several instances of the prodigious strength of the "sword." It strikes with the accumulated force of fifteen double-handed hammers; its velocity is equal to that of a swivel-shot, and it is as dangerous in its effects as a heavy artillery projectile would be.

The upper jaw of this fish is prolonged into a projecting flattened snout, the greatest length of which is about six feet, forming a saw, armed at each edge with about twenty large bony spines or teeth. Mr. Yarrel mentions a combat that occurred on the west coast of Scotland between a whale and some saw-fishes, aided by a force of "thrashers" (fox-sharks). The sea was dyed in blood from the stabs inflicted by the saw-fishes under the water, while the thrashers, watching their opportunity, struck at the unwieldy monster as often as it rose to breathe.

The sword-fish is also furnished with a powerful weapon in the shape of a bony snout about four or five feet long, not serrated like the saw-fish, but of a much firmer consistency—in fact, the hardest material known.